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they were defending the protestant religion, and doing God service. This petition lord George Gordon was requested to present to the house of Commons, of which he was a member; but he made it the condition of his compliance, that he should be attended by twenty thousand of the men who were enrolled in the lists of the association.
On the second day of June, 1780, they assem bled in St. George's-fields, to the number, it is sup. posed, of fifty thousand; Scotch and English in distinct bodies, carrying their ensigns of zeal; and with their president at their head, they marched in regular divisions to the house of commons. Their petition was presented, and while it was the subject of debate, a multitude of the petitioners remained without, who throwing aside by degrees the restraints of duty began to insult the members of parliament on the way to their respective houses, compelling them to cry "no popery,” and to wear blue cockades. To still greater excesses they were stimulated by the conduct of their noble president, who frequently came out to them during the debate, and addressed them in very intemperate language, and at last told them that the people of Scotland obtained no redress till they pulled down the popish chapels. Influenced most probably by this information, they proceeded in the same evening to the demolition of two of their most celebrated places of worship. • During almost a week from this time the metro. polis was the scene of tumult and devastation, other Romish chapels were destroyed, and the dwellings of many catholics injured and stripped. The prison of Newgate, in which some of their leaders were confined, was attacked and burnt, and several other. jails
HISTORY OF DISSENTERS. afterwards shared the same fate. The houses of lord Mansfield and sir George Saville were demolished; the destruction of many others followed; and a furious mob was extending its destructive steps far and wide, when to supply the defects of exertion by the civil magistrate, the entrance of a military body put a speedy stop to their ravages, and restored tranquility to the terrified inhabitants of London.
The actors in these various scenes were different. In the outrages of the evening after the petition was presented, some of lord George Gordon's followers were concerned; but few, if any, in those of the following days. A new class of men gradually rose up in their place, till at last the refuse of the metro. polis, intent only on plunder and mischief, concluded the tragic drama." ;
Of whom the protestant association was formed, it is natural to inquire. When even at the present time persons of the highest rank, both in church and state, are eager that Roman catholics should not stand on the same level with protestants, and account a diffe. rence of religion a just cause of political degrada. tion, it cannot be thought strange that thirty years ago plain men in the middle and chiefly in the inferior classes should have been imbued with a larger por, tion of the spirit of bigotry. They were collected from different religious denominations : the church furnished its full share : many were of the two tribes of methodists, who had just come out of the church, and still claimed a nearer relation to it than to the nonconformists: the Scotch furnished a numerous band : of rcgular dissenters there was the smallest number. Neither a minister, nor a layman of of note was to be found among them; nor need this
appear strange; for the doctrine of religious liberty was better understood among them, than in any other body of Christians in the country, or perhaps in the world. It had been the object of consideration for more than a century, and was become a fixed and governing principle in their minds. To prevent any sect of people, however erroneous their opinions, from worshipping God according to their conscience, appeared to the generality as unjust as to rob them of their property, and conclude the injury by the murder of the proprietors. From these acts of violence and outrage it is seen how dangerous are false principles; and how many evils will be avoided by an enlightened mind acting under the influence of the principles of the Gospel.
In the midst of the scenes of riot in the metro. polis, the house of commons was proceeding on the appointed day, the sixth of June, to consider the merits of the petition ; but being interrupted in their debates by the noise and violence of the mob, they adjourned: the subject was never afterwards resum- · ed, and the act of 1778 happily continued in force.
As the deliverance of the Roman catholics from the operation of persecuting statutes was but imperfect, in 1791 a bill was brought into the house of commons to grant them relief from those which still remained unrepealed. The benefit was however limited to such of the body as could subscribe a de. claration against the assumed authority of the pope as to temporals. Mr. Fox pleaded with all his force of argument, that the limitation might be expunged, and liberty granted on the broadest basis. He was supported by Mr. Burke, whose liberality for their religious opinions, and eloquence in behalf of those
who held them, never forsook him to the end of his career when Roman catholics had any thing to ask or to receive. Mr. Pitt argued for the limitation; and 'his voice prevailed. As many of the catholics could not conscientiously assent to the declaration, they were excluded from the benefit of the act.
Some years after the first success of the catholics, a subject which had long preyed on the minds of the dissenters was brought forward to public notice. The corporation and test acts had, from the revolution, been felt as burdens of oppressive weight, and a constant desire of deliverance had been expressed. But the spirit of the times would not admit of application for relief. In 1731 they were anxious to lay their complaints before parliament; and the subject was agitated by the body with a considerable degree of ardour'. Sir Robert Walpole, the minister of that day, while he expressed himself favourable to their cause, urged with all his energy the postponement of the petition, as it would rouse that spirit of tory. ism which then raged with peculiar fury among the clergy; and they would inflame the multitude not only against the dissenters but also against the government. On these considerations their application to parliament at that time was deferred, and when afterwards made, in 1736 and 1739, proved unsuccessful.
During a period of almost forty years, which intro. duced into public life an entirely new generation of men, the public mind, as the dissenters thought, was
* See Narrative of the Proceedings of the Protestant Dissenters relating to the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Act, from 1731
Present Times al of the Corporat of the Protestant
undergoing a gradual melioration in the principles of religious liberty; and the day was arrived when those fetters, which, for more than a century, had not only confined, but degraded them in the eyes of their fellow subjects, would be completely broken off, and thrown away, or hung up by them in triumph, as memorials of their deliverance. The success, with which their attempt to obtain freedom from subscription had been finally crowned, animated them with the hopes of a similar issue in the present business. The kind dispositions too, which had been displayed to the Roman catholics, in breaking down a system of restrictions which had subsisted for centuries, still farther confirmed them in the opinion, that an into. lerant spirit had departed from all the intelligent ranks in society, and was becoming feeble in the minds of the lowest vulgar. These expectations of success were still more confirmed by the conversation which those of the dissenting body, who had waited on the premier Mr. Pitt, detailed to their friends. “ He did not,” they said, “ patronize their cause ; but, at the same time, he discovered no hostility to the steps which they proposed to take.
With such flattering prospects, the dissenters, in 1787, applied to parliament for the repeal of the corporation and test act, so far as related to them. Mr. Beaufoy, a man of considerable talents and respectability, introduced the subject to the house of commons, and supported his motion by an able speech, in which, after giving an historical account of the two acts, and answering the objections usually adduced of the protection they afford to church and state, he powerfully urged the claims of the dissenters to equal civil privileges with their other protestant fellow